Focus on the food

I’m conflicted on Thanksgiving. For one thing, it’s so forced, so frantic – like, Release the Lemmings!  Looking at the tv news, I see people lined up in airports, cars lined up on the roads. On the home front, I try to get my groceries by the Tuesday before, shop for at least three or four days, because something really weird happens to the average shopper on Wednesday, and the desperation makes me nervous. I’m afraid somebody’s going to carjack me over a can of cranberries.

I mean, I’ve seen full grown men, pushing a shopping cart full of kids, none of whom have been in a grocery store more than three times a year, wandering the aisles of Safeway with this frightened expression, a tiny slip of paper in hand.  That either means, Mom is at home getting ready for company, and she’s sent the pack of them out of the house on some fool’s errand so she can have 5 minutes peace, or it means, Mom didn’t have time to shop, God help us.

Yeah, that’s the other thing – this holiday largely falls on the backs of women, who feel some sort of weird pressure to show the world that while they work 40+ hours a week they still know how to put a gourmet meal on the table for a family of 10.

On the other hand, it’s a food holiday, and you all know how I love to eat! And I love to see my kids sitting across the table. So we start early and enjoy ourselves at home. 

We haven’t done a turkey for years, too much work, but the best turkey we ever did was on the bbq with indirect heat. Here’s a good blog for bbq:

http://juanchosbbq.blogspot.com/search?q=turkey

We do most of our meat on the bbq or smoker these days – with the smoker, we can cook a big quantity of meat ahead, relax the rest of the holiday weekend. We already had an enormous chicken we’d bought at Safeway – we watch for whole chickens to go on sale at 99 cents a pound and we usually buy at least two.  But we needed something else to make it worth firing up the smoker, so Tuesday we went out, hunting and gathering. At Cash and Carry we found a pork shoulder roast for about $11, just the right size.

My husband had the meat in the smoker by 10 am. The chicken only takes a few hours, but the pork had to be on for 10 hours, and then foil wrapped and loaded into the oven for the finish. My husband explained to me, taking the meat up to 200 degrees breaks down the fats and proteins and gives it that stringy texture we all love – pulled pork!

My son pulled into town about 2 pm, the smell of smoked chicken greeted him in the driveway.  We carved the chicken Tuesday night and over half is sitting in the fridge for tacos tomorrow night. The pork was ready for sandwiches yesterday at lunch and tacos for dinner last night, we’ll finish off the rest over breakfast, maybe have another sandwich for lunch. 

We asked our kids last week what they wanted to eat for Thanksgiving dinner and without a pause they answered “steak.”

We get meat from Grandpa once a year when he butchers a steer, and when we’ve eaten all that we go to Cash and  Carry for a big boneless rib roast.  This time we bought a real whopper, cause we wanted steaks to send home with our kids. My husband cuts them with his super sharp filet knife, and I stand by with a box of plastic film wrap and a big freezer bag. I wrap each steak and stack it in the bag – when we want a steak I can separate them with a spatula. I’ve done the calculations, and depending on the price, it has worked out between $5 – 6 for a steak big enough to feed two adults, with leftovers for breakfast.

A steak dinner really takes the stress out of Thanksgiving. 

Cash and Carry also has a good deal on asparagus, and they have bags of small potatoes for about $4.

So what am I grateful for this year? 

It’s always good to have swell kids and a great spouse. It’s good to have a home that you love. It’s good to live in California – as much as I gripe about The Moonbeam. I’m thankful for the family that raised me to be tough and mean, while also showing me how to enjoy the little things that make life great.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you spend it, whatever you eat with whomever, I hope it’s a good day for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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America was born and lives at the family table

 

 

Yes the heat wave went away, leaving us with a new appreciation for temperatures under 110. Isn’t it funny how we learn to get used to stuff – now 100 is almost comfortable!

The heat dried things out pretty good. The sycamores are shedding like it’s September. But the crepe myrtle is blooming prettier than ever.  

We had out-of-town relatives who came a long way to see us, we tried to show them some California hospitality. We’ve  been on a tight budget because we’ve had to spend some money selling a rental while getting no rent from same.  So we had to be on our toes and plan ahead.

We’ve learned to watch Safeway online and take advantage of sales.  A couple of times a month they usually put whole chickens on sale, sometimes as cheap as 89 cents a pound. When our cousins first told us their plans, we started checking the website almost every day until we found Safeway had the birds marked down to 99 cents a pound – you can get a big 6 pound bird for less than 6 bucks, that’s pretty darned nice!

The day before our family was to arrive, my husband set up our smoker and Badges took his post alongside – we call him, Grill Dawg.   Andy put the chickens in about noon, the weather was nice enough to be outside and do some chores while we enjoyed the aroma.  I could hear the men on the construction site next door commenting on it.

Later that afternoon I took up watch on the smoker and my husband went to Chico Locker to pick up a tri-tip – my favorite, the Yukon Gold. A two pound tri-tip will run about $22, but you get a lot of meat.

The tri-tip went on the grill the next morning, with our guests expected somewhere around 2pm, we were well ahead of the game. As soon as the roast came off the grill we went to Cash and Carry to pick up a couple of watermelons – about $2 per melon, what a deal, they are crisp and sweet. One was enough for the afternoon, and then I have the other for the rest of the week. We also got a huge pack of strawberries for about $5.  I buy a lot of these melons and berries, cutting what we don’t eat right away into bite size chunks and putting them in ziplock bags in the freezer.

My son had come home from college for the visit, so I wanted to make him some corn tortillas. It’s so easy, I can make 20 tortillas within an hour, and set them on a plate between two paper towels, under a pot lid. 

Our cousins arrived exactly on time. They were coming from a three-day visit to the Bay Area, and had already remarked about the cold and rain in San Francisco. Their pictures showed heavy fog. Imagine stepping from that into 100 degrees! Luckily we had kept them well-informed about the previous stretch of 110, so they were grateful to get out onto the pavement without their shoes sticking to the street.

We hustled them into our apartment, where we’d kept the thermostat at 79 all day. We don’t have much furniture, but we have a big dining table with an extra leaf,  so we were able to sit everybody around the table – 9 altogether, like The Waltons. We’d had to scramble for chairs, borrowed one folding chair from our son, but we were left with plenty of elbow room. 

I always feel good when my guests get up to help themselves to seconds, the kids took thirds. My husband was proud as a peach, he really likes to grill and smoke, and have a big crowd at the table. My corn tortillas flew off the plate.

I’m sitting here now, we haven’t taken the leaf out of the table, we’re still missing our guests. We won’t see them again for many years, their kids will visit us with the grandchildren probably. 

We were watching the news last night and Debbie Cobb read a pick-up story about entertaining for the holidays. They do these every year, for those summer picnic holidays, it’s just a push piece for people to go out and SPEND!  She said a meal of burgers and hot dogs for 10 people  should cost about $55 a person, averaging about $550.  I had to laugh – she got that wrong, I looked it up.  Articles I found online said it was $5.50 a person, not $55 a person. Debbie, it’s time to retire!  We spent less than $100 on our meal, including sodas. We fed 9 people, and we’re still eating the left-overs. 

So I hope the rest of you will enjoy this holiday, chow down with your special relatives and friends, and remember, the cornerstone of America is the family table. 

 

 

 

 

 

I did it! Gluten-free birthday cake!

Thanks fellow bloggers for your support – I made the gluten-free birthday cake! 

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Well, giant cookie, really.

I got the recipe from my grandma.

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You can tell from the grease stains, this is one of my fave recipes.

Because my son is trying to cut gluten from his diet, I made some substitutions. 

 

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Here’s the usual suspects – oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and good old white sugar – I’ll work on a different sweetener next time, but Basil Rene is right – the world of sugar substitutes is fraught with peril. I used half and half brown and white like Gram says.

In lieu of a sugar substitute, I just cut the amount of sugar down to 2/3’s  cup. 

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Here’s the brown basmati I buy at Cash and Carry in 10 pound sacks, and here’s some coconut oil I found at Walmart for less than $4.

I wasn’t sure about buying the coconut oil at Walmart, but it was the cheapest. My son told me the more expensive oils are “refined” so that you can use them at higher temperatures, for stuff like sautes and stir-fries. I like it for baking – it’s very light, without any odor.

As for amount, I thought I better check, so I googled cookie recipes using coconut oil. I found one that matched my recipe – half a cup of liquid coconut oil for a half a cup butter.  

When I added the oil to the sugar, it didn’t seem right, too wet. But the egg mixed in well, and when I added the rice flour, oats and Krispies, it looked just like the dough I got using butter and wheat flour. It’s always kind of crumbly, when I make cookies, I mash it into spoonful-size balls and set them on the sheet, where they melt into thin, crispy wafers, just like  Gram used to make.  Or I just mash the whole pile of dough into a pan and make “cookie bars.” 

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I wanted a cake so I mashed it into a cake pan.

Baking time was the variable – for my usual size pan I bake them 20 – 25 minutes at 350, waiting for the top to turn brown. This pan was smaller and deeper so I had to bake it closer to 35 minutes. This made it more like a cake than a cookie, but the edges were still  crunchy.

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Here’s the topping – looks like a mess!

I got an idea for a “cookie tart” from Chef Pepin, it just didn’t turn out exactly the way he did it – we just dumped a couple of pints of blueberries and a cut pear into a sauce pan, without sugar or anything, and stirred it into this mess. It was delicious, the tart fruit made the perfect compliment for the sweet cookie-cake. 

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We sent most of the cake home with the birthday boy, but I saved a piece for my husband to eat for breakfast.

Like Chef Pepin would say – et voila! There it is, a gluten free birthday cake. 

 

 

 

We smoked a duck to ring in the New Year – I think 2017 is going to be a good year!

Golden, juicy and delicious - and only $2.99 a pound at Safeway.

Golden, juicy and delicious – and only $2.99 a pound at Safeway.

My husband and I have taken to buying much of our meat in bulk. We go so far as to buy our boneless chicken in 40 pound blocks at the local restaurant supply store, Cash and Carry, at about half the price of buying out of the cold case at the grocery store.  We keep an eye on their website for deals.

https://www.smartfoodservice.com/content/store/37/

We still look for deals at Safeway – we buy whole chickens whenever they are marked down. We’ve looked around, and Safeway consistently has the lowest sale price on whole chickens, sometimes as cheap as 79 cents a pound.  

When my father-in-law butchers a steer, we get a big package of meat from him, but he’s  getting pretty old, and he’s keeping fewer steers, selling some of them to his neighbors to offset the cost of feed and other expenses. When we ran out of meat last year and he didn’t have a steer on schedule, we went to Cash and Carry and bought a boneless rib roast for less than $100.  My husband cut that into about 15 steaks in his first attempt at meat cutting. Next time he thinks he can get at least five more, some of these were too thick.  We wrapped each steak in plastic wrap, and put them in zip-lock freezer bags, stowed away in our little chest freezer.  We can now have a steak dinner at about half the price of grocery store meat.

We are always on the look-out for good deals at Safeway, like the Cornish game hens we bought for Thanksgiving. Regularly $1.99 a pound, they were marked down to $1.69. We fed six adults on four birds, finger licking good. 

So we look in that cold case alot. One day we saw they had whole duck for $2.99 a pound, so we picked up a 5 pound bird at just less than $15.  I grew up on wild game, and duck was tough, but we liked it. This was a domestic bird, raised all kind and friendly by Amish people. We were curious  to see how it would smoke up.

Do you think I overuse the expression “OMG!” ? Let me know about that, and send me some synonyms. This bird was so delicious, I think there’s going to be trouble later when I take the remaining leg out of the fridge. 

 

It might be time to bring in your plants!

Oooooo - go back in the house!

Oooooo – go back in the house!

A local tv anchor complained recently that the weather had “suddenly” turned cold. That’s the kind of astute observation that marks our local journalism.  The school district can lie, cheat and steal, but the mercury drops a few degrees and it’s NEWSFLASH!

Of course I’d already wrapped my outside plants, for fear they would turn to mush.

Yard gets to looking a little dreary this time of year.

Yard gets to looking a little dreary this time of year.

Aloe vera does exceptionally well in Spring and Fall, hangs in there in Summer, but Winter can be a deal breaker.  One good freeze and the leaves all turn dark and wilt, then turn to mush and die, it’s so sad.  So I wrap them up in some old freeze cloth, and if it gets below 30, they all get toted into the garage.  I’ve had to leave them in the garage, opening the front door for daily sun, for a week at a time.

But don’t worry, the sun will come back. Just repeat after me – “la primavera esta a vuelta a la esquina” – Spring is right around the corner. As if to remind us – 

iris flowers are already opening all over my yard.

iris flowers – in my family they are called “flags” –  are already opening all over my yard.

 

In the meantime we turn to food for comfort.  Safeway had cheap whole chickens again – 99 cents a pound, that works out to about $5 to $6 for a bird.  We had to give the new smoker another run. 

A chicken in every pot - yeah, that is nice, isn't it!

A chicken in every pot – yeah, that is nice, isn’t it!

I don’t think the smoker will ever get boring. That chicken was so good we picked it to the bone, eating the last bits with crackers and cheese.

Of course, the grill has become part of our routine already. We got a “party pack” of drumsticks and thighs for $1.89 a pound, a huge pack for less than eight bucks, and ate bbq chicken  legs for two dinners and lunch.  No, it doesn’t get old – the first night we had grilled baby potatoes, and the second night we had rice – makes it a whole different meal. What was nice  about it was my husband only had to stand over the grill  one night.  We even  had left-over potatoes for breakfast.

And a person needs a hardy meal when they have a day of physical work ahead of them. Today we get rid of “Doug”.

After 15 years you get attached to a tree, even if it was doomed from the beginning.

After 15 years you get attached to a tree, even if it was doomed from the beginning.

I don’t know who planted a Douglas fir right under the power lines 30 years ago, but it was a poor decision. When we bought this place we knew Doug’s days were numbered, but he continued to flourish. So, it was a surprise when he started to turn brown last Spring. By mid-Summer, he was looking pretty dead. We realized we couldn’t take him down ourselves because of the proximity to the power lines, so we called  PG&E. They came out, in October? and took him right to the ground. He wasn’t a huge tree, it only took a few minutes, and he was gone. 

PG&E will cut down or trim a tree for free but the property owner is left to get rid of the mess. The other tree they removed, closer to our house, was a deodor cedar.  Cedar burns well in our camp stove, we’ve been cutting up the smaller branches and having nice fires in the morning and evening. We’ve stacked it next to our green house, so we can bring wood into the greenhouse to dry out. It burns great. But Doug is a real  sap – even dead and seasoned  he is a messy, dangerous burn. So today we will load most of Doug into the F-150 and take him to the city compost facility. The bigger logs will  be rolled to the edge of the property, kind of a reminder to the dog walking neighbors, where public property meets private property.

I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Time for breakfast, wait for the mercury to go up a few notches…

 

Smoke ’em if you got ’em! Our new smoker made cooking for the family a breeze!

The family gathered around the smoker this year.

The family gathered around the smoker this year.

Years ago my husband and I gave up trying to cook whole turkey for Thanksgiving, it was just too much trouble and not that tasty.  We switched to whole chickens, which are cheap and easy to prepare.  We don’t try to cook that kind of meat in the house, either, we have always grilled over indirect heat. But when a friend of ours picked up a barrel smoker at a yard sale, and started telling us about all the great meals he was getting out of it, my husband had a sudden inspiration for taking the usual doldrums out of Thanksgiving.

My husband did some research online and found the Southern Country charcoal barrel smoker at Lowe’s for a very reasonable price – $79.  He had it put together and ready to go the same day. It had to be seasoned, so he fired it up – it was ready for meat within an hour.  He wanted to give it a  test  run, so we used a simple salt rub on some bone-in thighs we’d just bought at Safeway for 99 cents a pound, pinned the skin together with a couple of toothpicks,  and loaded them into the smoker.

How many times can you say, “OMG!” in one lifetime? This smoker promises plenty of “OMG!” moments. I’m sorry, but I think our Lord would like to hear about this, I don’t think I’m taking anybody’s name in vain  here.

Four hours later we hauled out eight perfectly cooked chicken thighs. They were juicy, tender and delicious. The best thing was, we were able to cook  a large quantity. 

Nothing like leftovers!

Nothing like leftovers!

I’ve seen two articles in the past week regarding Americans’ eating habits as a nation. Apparently people are spending more and more money eating out, less at the grocery store.  That’s too rich for me, every time we eat at a restaurant I can’t help making a mental list of the groceries I could have bought on the same tab. My husband and I might spend $50 on a meal out – for about $65, we get a forty pound box of huge chicken breasts at Cash and Carry. Thighs are usually less than $50 for a 40 pound box. 

 I know it seems onerous to come home from work and prepare a nice meal, but all it takes is planning.  The first plan to make is how and where to buy food in practical quantities that achieve a discount. The second plan is storage and management.  The third plan is how to make a meal that lasts at least two nights. 

I’m not saying we’re perfect, but the more time we put into planning the less hassle we find in making the actual meal.  An old contractor around here, Howard Slater, used to say, “for every dollar you spend on planning your project, you save seven in building it…” I don’t know if the numbers are still good, but I’d say that’s a pretty good analogy for meal planning. 

It’s also nice to have staple meals that you do well.

The meat came right off the bone and into the skillet.

The meat came right off the bone and into the skillet.

I usually have cooked rice around the house because it is a component of my homemade dog food. The dogs get half the pot and then we have a nice bowl of rice in the fridge for whatever quick meal. Tacos are just too easy to make, we eat them a lot.

Tacos are an easy staple meal - even homemade tortillas.

Tacos are an easy staple meal – even homemade tortillas. There’s the last tomato from our garden.  

I just picked up a 10 lb bag of brown Basmati rice at Cash and Carry for about $8.50.  You might think 10 pounds of rice is a lot but all you need is a couple of big jars or plastic bins and a space under your counter.  I go through 10 pounds in a little over a month.

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Here’s a 10 pound bag of rice – contained in a plastic sealed bag inside this ornate burlap bag. I store it in two big jars under my counter. The bag, which has handles and a real zipper,  makes a nice shopping sack, or you can stuff it and use it for a pillow on your patio.

 

Something else we have been eye-balling at Cash and Carry are the Cornish game hens. My mom liked these when I was little and baked them in the oven like a regular size chicken. She marinated  them with cheap white wine and called them drunken chickens. She treated them like the food of kings, so I always assumed they were expensive. Not so – Cash and Carry usually  has them for $1.99/lb, and this week Safeway priced them down to $1.69/lb.  The regular price on a whole chicken is $1.89 a pound, so we will probably be eating more of these little birds. 

We bought four for Thanksgiving, for a party of six.  They were frozen  hard enough to bust the windshield out of a ’66 Peterbilt, so we had to set them in the fridge for a couple of days. When we had them thawed out, we divided them up between dry rub and wet brine and set them in  separate zip lock  bags all morning. By noon my husband had them in the smoker, and by 4 pm, they were done to a positively perfect turn.

My husband served up a plentiful meal out of the smoker, adding some salmon we also got on sale at Safeway, and some boneless chicken thighs, also divided between wet and dry brine.  I added potatoes, beans and carrots and a green salad – pretty typical meal around here. 

It was a long day, but planning made it come off without a hitch.  We ate early, went for a family stroll into the evening darkness, looking for signs of life among our neighbors.  Then we came home and sat around the old camp stove. I was shocked how long the kids were willing to sit there with us, they seemed happy to be together. All last week I worried about keeping them entertained – all it took was a meal and a fire.